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Super Bowl Origins: How did this all get started?

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NFL championship game has since become a national holiday

Super Bowl XXI
Phil Simms and Joe Morris in Super Bowl 21
Photo by Rick Stewart/Allsport/Getty Images

The Super Bowl is an unofficial national holiday affectionately entitled “Super Sunday.”

It is also the biggest food production day in the food retail business. One in every six televisions is bought just prior to the game. Snack companies increase production of potato and tortilla chips in anticipation of higher sales. Pizza delivery companies hire more drivers and sell more pies than at any other time of the year. The big game sends sales of beer, soda, chips, guacamole, salsa and dips through the roof.

Super Sunday is the third largest alcohol consumption celebration behind New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day. One in four workers will participate in a game pool while Super Sunday weekend is the slowest for wedding bookings.

Super Bowl Beginnings

The game was created from the merger negotiations between the established National Football League (NFL) and the younger American Football League (AFL). From the AFL’s inception in 1960, the upstart coalition had pestered the NFL to have a championship game between the two leagues, but all the NFL wanted was for the AFL to go away. The last thing the NFL wanted was to verify that their new rivals were supposedly an equal.

Both leagues had their own championship games and league champions every season and fought for rookies players as salaries escalated out of control. So, when the two leagues finally decided to merge into one entity in 1970, beginning in 1966 a common draft was instituted, a common preseason schedule plus this game was designed to pit league champs against each other.

The first three championship games were played from 1966-1968 right after each league’s championship game. These first contests were called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” and appeared that every subsequent game from this point on would be called that also.

Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, coined the term “Super Bowl” inadvertently at a committee meeting at the time of the third contest. Hunt had thought of the name while watching his children play with the Wham-O toy Super Ball. The commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, didn’t like the term “super” thinking it had no sophistication and was simply an ordinary term so officially, the game was still called the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”

In the meantime, pro football beat writers, commentators and even players began using the term “Super Bowl” and whether or not Rozelle thought the moniker was grammatically correct or not, the name stuck.

It had been suggested that the championship game needed a catchier name. But Rozelle had a suggestion for the game’s title instead. At first his suggestion was to rename the league’s all-star contest and then call this championship game the “Pro Bowl.” As with the tradition in that time with college football having all of their post-season special games identified as a “bowl” game, Rozelle simply followed suit.

Still, Rozelle was adamant that the title game to earth’s finest sports league should not be labeled something as simplistic with the word “super” attached to it. But one has to enlighten that in the 1960s the word “super” meant the pinnacle of whatever the moniker preceded. Supermodel, superpower, Superdome, Jesus Christ Superstar, super nova, supermarket, super weapon, superorganism, supersized, super heavy, super stock, supermacho and supershow suddenly became main stream usage.

Rozelle suggested “The Big One.” That idea obviously didn’t get any traction.

Tickets for the first three games were labeled “AFL-NFL World Championship Game” whereas the fourth installation said “Super Bowl IV.” It is by coincidence that in that fourth game the powerful and favored Minnesota Vikings played Hunt’s Chiefs to which Kansas City shocked the football world with a 23-7 victory.

The Super Bowl decides the champion of the NFL, and also the champions of the advertising universe. Inasmuch as the Super Bowl has created a mass gathering either in sports bars or at household gatherings, this splendid festival generates just as much interest in the commercials as it does the actual game itself.

Basically, the Super Bowl is the most influential amphitheater in TV promotion. In the world of advertising it is viewed as judgment day. New ad campaigns often begin their kickoff airing during the game.

Three of the four networks that carry the NFL broadcasts - CBS, FOX and NBC -alternate as host of the Super Bowl each year and pay dearly for the rights. This season alone, CBS paid $1.08 billion for NFL rights, which also included the 2019 Super Bowl.

CBS will broadcast Super Bowl LIII played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and announced the cost for each 30 second commercial spot averages $5.2 million.

Super Champions

As far as NFL titles, the Packers have won the most with 13 followed by the Chicago Bears (9) and New York Giants (8). The Cleveland Browns have also captured eight league titles, however, four were in the NFL while the other four were in the NFL-rival league All-America Football Conference. When the NFL accepted three clubs from the AAFC into their fold in 1950, part of the agreement of the merger was that none of the statistics or records from the former entity would be recognized in the NFL annuals.

New York Giants Super Bowl XLVI Victory Parade Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

As far as Super Bowl winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the most with six (6-1) followed by the New England Patriots (5-5), Dallas Cowboys (5-3) and San Francisco 49ers (5-1) with five each.

This year’s Super Bowl will mark the Patriots’ 11th appearance, an NFL record. The Buffalo Bills own the Super Bowl record for most consecutive championship game appearances (1991-1994) although the Browns hold the NFL record with six consecutive from 1950-1955. The Patriots and Dolphins are tied with third most with three.

The sudden emergence of the Super Bowl allowed one club the ability to extend their consecutive championships. The Packers won the last NFL title before the creation of the Super Bowl in 1965. They also took the 1966 crown, plus Super Bowl I making three championships in a row. The following year, Green Bay again won the NFL title (for three consecutive league titles) and then won Super Bowl II, thus winning five consecutive championships.

On the flip side, the Patriots and Denver Broncos have the most losses in the Super Bowl with five followed by the Vikings and the Bills with four each. The Bills were all consecutive whereas the Vikings were in different decades with several different starting QBs.

The lone clubs to win three of four Super Bowls are the Cowboys (1993-1994, 1996) and Patriots (2002, 2004-2005). With the Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl, this marks the first time a team has played in four of five Super Bowls (2015, 2017-2019). The Browns hold the record with playing in six of seven NFL title games (1950-1955, 1957).

The Dolphins took Super Bowl VII at the conclusion of the 1972 term to become the only NFL team to finish their season unbeaten and untied with a sterling 17-0-0 record. Many NFL clubs had completed their year without any losses, but with a tie involved making Miami’s distinction that much more special.

Super Bowl Sites

Speaking of Miami, that city along with New Orleans has hosted the most Super Bowls with 10. In the game’s beginnings, the NFL only offered the game to a warm weather climate city because of the January time slot. Out of the first 25 games, only one was played in a cold environment when the 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI in Michigan at the Pontiac Silverdome, home of the Detroit Lions.

New Orleans, Tampa, San Diego, Pasadena, Houston and Los Angeles were the most cities used prior to the building of domed stadiums across the United States. When the St. Louis Cardinals moved southwest to Arizona, the NFL quickly snatched that location onto their annual list of suitable sites as well.

Other domed stadiums used have been: Minneapolis (1992, 2018), Atlanta (1993, 2000, and 2019) and Detroit (2006). Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014 was played outdoors in New Jersey, home of the New York Jets and Giants. This marked the first time the NFL championship game was played outside in northern confines since 1969 when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Browns 27-7 at Minneapolis in the final “NFL Championship Game” before the merger.

The Super Bowl prompted a neutral site for the championship game. Before this, the title game in the NFL or the AFL was played at one of the game participant’s home field which made outdoor temperatures in most areas an issue on game day.

Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association